I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, on the general understanding that conspiracies involve numerous people and, the more people who know something, the more difficult it becomes to keep it a secret. That’s why Birthers and Truthers and plenty of other “Ers” sort of baffle me, because it seems like a whole lot of wasted energy on things that amount to nothing more than a grand pile of silliness.
Which is why I cling to the idea that Shakespeare essentially wrote all his own stuff, because the alternative — that it was actually Christopher Marlowe, or someone else, or several guys writing under the “Shakespeare” pseudonym — is sort of depressing and nihilistic. If you can’t believe that someone is capable of being that brilliant and that consistent for an extended stretch of time, then you really have bigger problems with which to deal. Also, I say “essentially,” because I like to think that there was some collaboration going on. Actors and directors today add to any piece of performed writing, so why not in Elizabethan England? Still, doesn’t mean that anyone else but him was the author, just that it’s conceivable — and understandable — that he might have had some help.
The thing is, while it might seem odd to have a conversation like this at this particular moment in time, take a minute to consider when the name Shakespeare doesn’t come up in conversation in some fashion. Whether it’s a random name drop or some performance of one of his plays is getting some attention, or an adaptation is being released into theaters, it never feels like Shakespeare is not timely.
And yet, right now, for some reason, he’s as in vogue as he’s been in quite some time. There are innumerable ways to adapt and interpret his work, and if you doubt it, just look at two current TV shows. ABC’s Still Star-Crossed, for instance, imagines what might have happened after the end of Romeo and Juliet. TNT’s Will, meanwhile, looks at his early years, after first arriving in London in 1589. A sort of Shakespeare in Love-style thing, with Young Willy as Rock Star. There are a couple more in development, too. (Personally, I always thought As You Like It had the makings of a good TV show, but that’s just me.)
This goes along with two major stage adaptations, and more than two dozen film projects in some form of development, including Daisy Ridley’s Ophelia, a more feminist slant on Hamlet.
People want quality IP, look no further than the dead English guy.
Over the years, there have been plenty of inventive cinematic adaptations of his writings — 10 Things I Hate About You is a personal favorite — but part of the fun is actually seeing it done on stage. Oscar Isaac is getting insanely good reviews right now for his Broadway Hamlet turn, while just last month, everyone was all up in arms about the Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, which had the great Gregg Henry playing a Trump-like version of the title character, which of course led to protests.
That’s the beauty of Shakespeare’s work, which covers not only the most famous tragedies, but also plenty of comedies, as well as those histories, which have turned into some of the best movies. It’s curious why he becomes more popular in some years than others, but he never quite goes out of style. It’s fairly fascinating to see.
The irony of it is that I don’t think he’d necessarily do so well were he alive today. Sure, he’d probably have some real success on Broadway, but I’m not sure his work would translate so easily to Hollywood. In fact, I like to imagine that one of those pitch meetings might go something like this:
“Hey, Will. Good to see you. Thanks for coming in. What’ve you got for us?”
“I’m really excited about this, actually. It’s a love story. Two kids. Maybe, I don’t know, late teens. Get a couple internet influencers to play them.”
“Uh huh. Uh huh. With you so far.”
“Here’s the twist: their families hate each other. Like, Hatfields and McCoys kind of stuff. Years and years, they’ve been enemies, but these two kids, they fall for each other in spite of it all.”
“Right? Real sexy stuff. And deep. Totally heartfelt and layered.”
“I like it. How does it end? They run off together?”
“No. Even better. Ready? Double suicide.”
“Yeah, and it’s a total accident. He’s unconscious, she finds him, thinks he’s dead, and kills herself, then he wakes up, sees she’s dead, and he offs himself, too. Totally poetic and tragic.”
“Do you love it?”
“No? What’s wrong? Too dark?”
“What, uh … what else you got, Will?”
“Okay. Sure. There’s this other thing I have, about this Danish prince. His father dies, his uncle marries his mom and takes the crown after poisoning his brother, it’s totally messed up.”
“And he gets revenge, right? I like it.”
“Yeah, sort of. He’s really depressed and he tends towards these long speeches, but yeah, in the end, he gets his revenge.”
“And he becomes king?”
“No, he dies in the end. Stabbed by a poisoned blade.”
“So, wait, everyone dies in the end?”
“Pretty much, yeah. What do you think? Cool, right?”
“Everything okay at home, Will?”
I like to think he’d carve out a living, though. Maybe as an indie filmmaker. Or a rewrite guy. Talent, and all.